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In inorganic chemistry, a nitrate is a salt of nitric acid with an ion composed of one nitrogen and three oxygen atoms (NO3). In organic chemistry the esters of nitric acid and various alcohols are called nitrates. Nitrate from food, especially vegetables, is converted in the human digestive tract to nitrite which reacts with amines to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.


Chemical properties

The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the empirical formula NO3 and a molecular mass of 62.0049. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identical oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a formal charge of negative one, where each oxygen carries a −2/3 charge while the nitrogen carries a +1 charge, and is commonly used as an example of resonance. The three canonical structures of the nitrate ion are shown resonating below:

Almost all inorganic nitrate salts are soluble in water at standard temperature and pressure.

In organic chemistry a nitrate is a functional group with general chemical formula RONO2 where R stands for any organic residue. They are the esters of nitric acid and alcohols formed by nitroxylation. Examples are methyl nitrate formed by reaction of methanol and nitric acid,[1] the nitrate of tartaric acid,[2] and the inappropriately named nitroglycerin.

Related materials

Nitrates should not be confused with nitrites (NO2) the salts of nitrous acid. Organic compounds containing the nitro functional group (which has the same formula and structure as the nitrate ion save that one of the O atoms is replaced by the R group) are known as nitro compounds.

Effects on aquatic life

In freshwater or estuarine systems close to land, nitrate can reach high levels that can potentially cause the death of fish. While nitrate is much less toxic than ammonia or nitrite,[3] levels over 30 ppm of nitrate can inhibit growth, impair the immune system and cause stress in some aquatic species.[citation needed] However, due to inherent problems with past protocols on acute nitrate toxicity experiments, nitrate may be less toxic to marine animals than previously thought.[4] In most cases of excess nitrate concentrations, the principle pathway of entering aquatic systems is through surface runoff from agricultural or landscaped areas which have received excess nitrate fertilizer. These levels of nitrate can also lead to algae blooms, and when nutrients become limiting (such as potassium, phosphate or nitrate) then eutrophication can occur. As well as leading to water anoxia, these blooms may cause other changes to ecosystem function, favouring some groups of organisms over others. Consequently, as nitrates form a component of total dissolved solids, they are widely used as an indicator of water quality.

Nitrates are also a by product of septic systems. Specifically, they are a naturally occurring chemical that is left after the break down or decomposition of animal or human waste. Water quality may also be affected through ground water resources that have a high number of septic systems in a watershed. Septics leach down into ground water resources or aquifers and supply near by bodies of water. Lakes that rely on ground water are often affected by nitrification through this process.

See also

LiNO3 Be(NO3)2 B C N O F Ne
NaNO3 Mg(NO3)2 Al(NO3)3 Si P S ClONO2 Ar
KNO3 Ca(NO3)2 Sc(NO3)3 Ti V Cr(NO3)3 Mn(NO3)2 Fe(NO3)3 Co(NO3)2 Ni(NO3)2 Cu(NO3)2 Zn(NO3)2 Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
RbNO3 Sr(NO3)2 Y Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd(NO3)2 AgNO3 Cd(NO3)2 In Sn Sb Te CI Xe
CsNO3 Ba(NO3)2 Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg(NO3)2 Tl Pb(NO3)2 Bi Po At Rn
Fr Ra Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Uub Uut Uuq Uup Uuh Uus Uuo
La Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd(NO3)3 Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
Ac Th Pa U(NO3)2 Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr


  1. ^ Black, A. P.; Babers, F. H. (1939). "Methyl nitrate". Org. Synth.; Coll. Vol. 2: 412. 
  2. ^ Snyder, H. R.; Handrick, R. G.; Brooks, L. A. (1942). "Imidazole". Org. Synth.; Coll. Vol. 3: 471. 
  3. ^ Romano, N.; Zeng, C. (2007). "Acute toxicity of sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and potassium chloride and their effects on the hemolymph composition and gill structure of early juvenile blue swimmer crabs (Portunus pelagicus, Linneaus 1758) (Decapoda, Brachyura, Portunidae)." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 26: 1955–1962.
  4. ^ Romano N., Zeng, C. (2007). "Effects of potassium on nitrate mediated changes to osmoregulation in marine crabs". Aquatic Toxicology 85: 202-208.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nitrate". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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